Corps addresses depot cleanup

Published 8:15 pm Friday, June 5, 2015

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager on the decontamination of a former North Suffolk military site has elaborated on why the process is taking so long.

In a Harbour View conference room Thursday evening, the Nansemond Ordnance Depot Restoration Advisory Board met for the first time since the Suffolk News-Herald reported on criticism of the length and cost of the 28-year-long project.

The criticism came from a consultant working for a foundation established by the site’s major landowner, Tidewater Community College.

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TCC Executive Vice President Frank Dunn, who serves as the foundation’s executive director, attended the meeting in place of the consultant, William Sorrentino. Dunn said Sorrentino would no longer be attending the 17-member advisory board’s quarterly meetings on behalf of the foundation.

Sorrentino’s letter to board members in February noted 12 years of schedule growth in the project’s annual site management plans between 2007 and the 2015 draft.

At the meeting, Sher Zaman, the Corps project manager, opened a lengthy discussion on the schedule concerns by saying, “I have to agree with you guys that I find it problematic myself. I think that we have to have more discussion on it.”

“I want to walk away today understanding … how we can get there,” Zaman said.

Zaman argued:

  • The 38 areas (or projects) that still need to be addressed represent 5 percent of the 975-acre site. “The rest of the area can be developed at any given time,” he said.
  • Every area where issues are present is being addressed. “We are not leaving any sites behind … (and) funding isn’t an issue.”
  • The number of projects that have been completed almost equals the number still open. “Over the years, we have made a lot of progress. We have closed out seven or eight projects in the past couple of years.”
  • Just because sites haven’t been de-listed doesn’t mean they cannot be developed. “De-listing is more like a formality.”
  • More recently, three new projects had to be added after two years of studying aerial photography from the late 1920s through 1960 identified new areas requiring investigation.
  • The schedule “predicts a worst-case scenario,” and the work, or aspects of it, could be competed sooner.
  • Through land-use controls, and tweaking the schedule to focus more on certain projects as needed, contaminated areas still could be developed.

Zaman said he would present the final 2015 site management plan to the board Thursday at its September meeting.

The board also received updates on two current projects. Corps environmental engineer Debbie McKinley said a feasibility study is progressing for an area between the lake on the TCC campus and Interstate 664, where activities at “four smokeless powder magazines and one ammunition magazine,” and, later, a lumber treatment plant, were found to have caused contamination posing a potential threat to human health and the environment.

McKinley listed four alternatives identified: no action, land-use controls, installing soil cover and removing soil and disposing it offsite.

Hamid Rafiee, another Corps environmental engineer, said activities are scheduled for June 8-19 for areas on the lake’s opposite side, where intrusive investigations and historical aerial photography indicated work is required on anomalies that could potentially be buried munitions and explosives.

Phase I, involving location surveying, clearing brush, digital geophysical mapping and magnetometer survey, would identify areas of concern, he said. Depending on those results, Phase II, to be completed in November, could include excavation and “critical removal.”